Emergency Department Overcrowding

Emergency Department Use

Statistics on emergency department (ED) utilization are important for planning, management, and resource allocation decisions in EDs in Canada. This report summarizes ED use and overcrowding in Canada through an analysis of real-world data on the demographic and utilization patterns of people accessing the ED.

An accompanying interactive online dashboard has been developed to highlight key findings from the utilization analysis.

Key Messages

  • The analysis is primarily based on National Ambulatory Care Reporting System (NACRS) data. NACRS  collects hospital- and community-based ambulatory care data, including day surgery, outpatient, community-based clinics, and ED information. Most of the analysis was based on findings from Alberta, Ontario, and Yukon, as these were the jurisdictions where data collection and reporting to NACRS is mandated and were made available (data collection is also mandated in Quebec, but the data were not made available).
  • According to the data sources available to CADTH:
    • Since 2010 the number of ED visits has remained relatively stable; however, patients are coming to the ED with more severe or urgent conditions.
    • Since 2016 both the total number of hospital beds and long-term care beds has decreased.
    • Patients are waiting longer in the ED for an initial assessment with a physician.
    • Patients who need to be admitted to the hospital after an ED visit are experiencing extended boarding times - the practice of holding patients in the ED after they have been admitted to the hospital because inpatient beds are unavailable.
    • More patients are leaving the ED without being assessed by a medical professional.
    • More patients are needing to be admitted, transferred, or transferred within facilities after their ED visit.
    • Because not all jurisdictions are required to submit data to the NACRS, considerable knowledge gaps remain. And although inequity in access to, or care within, EDs is an important issue, it is not accounted for in the data presented in this report.

Emergency Department Overcrowding: Utilization Analysis

Emergency Department Overcrowding: Utilization Analysis: Methods Document